Thursday April 26 2012

Money spent on VIP treatment abroad can build 10 hospitals

A doctor putting a child on drip as the mother

A doctor putting a child on drip as the mother sits on the bed without mattress. Photo by Steven Ariong.  

By Ismail Musa Ladu

The Shs377 billion spent by government on treating its top officials abroad every year is enough to construct 10 hospitals of the standard of the private Kampala International Hospital, medical experts told this newspaper.

If built, the hospitals would treat many of the VIPs who currently fly abroad, but would also bring world-class treatment to hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ugandans across the country.

A few days after this newspaper, citing an official government report, revealed the sums spent on foreign treatment, plans are now underway to compel the Uganda Medical Board to reveal the complete list of mostly top government officials and other beneficiaries of state-sponsored treatment abroad.

Championing the effort is Shadow Minister of Health, Michael Lulume Bayigga, who says he is opposed to the UMB’s working methods which are shrouded in secrecy.

“When Uganda Medical Board appeared before the Social Services Committee, we needed to know who are eligible, we also needed the lists of those who have so far benefitted from the scheme and what kind of ailment they were treated for, but we didn’t get these answers because the matter was said to be confidential,” Dr Lulume said.

According to the Buikwe County MP, he is marshalling support of like-minded legislators to, among others, block the approval of the board’s budget until it provides answers to all the aforementioned issues.

He said: “I will be going to the Budget and Social Services Committee to fight until my wish is granted. I am very sure most of these cases referred abroad can be treated here because our problem is not the medical personnel.”

Dr Lulume said public money spent abroad can better be used to buy equipment

A leaked report from last December’s ministerial retreat which was convened to assess the government’s performance in the previous year revealed that every year government spends at least $150 million (about Shs377 billion) on treatment of mostly top government officials abroad.

That expenditure, according to medical practitioners who have established private medical facilities in the country, could construct up to 10 modern hospitals.

At the same time, the same amount of money is sufficient to install not less than 70 Intensive Care Units in hospitals around the country considering that just last year the government spent a reported Shs5 billion to install Uganda’s second only such unit in Jinja Regional Referral Hospital.

Stringent measures
The report on last December’s retreat revealed that President Museveni, who, together with members of his family has benefitted from the scheme, wants expenditure on treatment abroad curbed. And yesterday, State Minister for Health (General Duties), Richard Nduhura, said in an interview that all ministers are under directives from the President not to clear public officials seeking treatment abroad.

“The President stopped us from clearing patients seeking treatment abroad, now it is the work of the UMB who are also under instruction to only permit severe cases that cannot be treated,” Dr Nduhura said.

He, however, disclosed that in two weeks’ time, construction of a modern hospital—specifically to handle specialised cases - will start at Lubowa, along Entebbe Road.

“Ground breaking ceremony for a state-of the-art hospital will be done in two weeks by a Japanese investor,” he disclosed.

Meanwhile he said he did not have a specific number of officials who have since been approved by his ministries, referring this newspaper to the Medical board for details, however, the board chairperson could not be reached by press time.
iladu@ug.nationmedia.com

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